Although normally benign, a cold sore outbreak can be irritating and embarrassing. Understanding why they occur is the first step to minimizing outbreaks.
The typical cold sore (also known as a fever blister) is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) Type I, medically known as “Herpes Labialis” because it occurs on or around the lips. This virus is not to be confused with HSV Type II, which causes a genital infection. Unlike most viruses, HSV Type I can cause a recurring sore outbreak in certain people. Most viruses tend to occur only once because the body produces anti-bodies to prevent further attack; it’s believed HSV Type I, however, can shield itself from these defenses by hiding in the body’s nerve roots.
These cold sore outbreaks often occur during periods of high stress, overexposure to sunlight or injuries to the lip. Initially you may have an itch or slight burning around the mouth that escalates into more severe itching, redness, swelling and blistering. The sores will break out for about a week to ten days and then scab over and eventually heal (unless they become infected, in which case the healing process may go longer). You’re contagious between the first symptoms and healing, and so can spread the virus to other people.
In recent years, anti-viral prescription medications have been developed that can effectively prevent HSV outbreaks, or at least reduce the healing time after an occurrence. The most common of these are acyclovir and valcyclovir, proven effective with only a few possible mild side effects. They can be taken routinely by people with recurring cold sores to suppress regular outbreaks.
While HSV Type I cold sores are more an aggravation than a health danger, it’s still important for you to see us initially for an examination if you encounter an outbreak. It’s possible for a more serious condition to masquerade as a cold sore or blister. A visit to us may also get you on the right track to reducing the frequency of outbreaks, as well as minimizing discomfort when they do occur.
If you would like more information on the treatment of cold sores, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Cold Sores.”
Want to know the exact wrong way to pry open a stubborn lid? Just ask Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC-TV’s popular “Tonight Show.” When the 40-year-old funnyman had trouble opening a tube of scar tissue repair gel with his hands, he decided to try using his teeth.
What happened next wasn’t funny: Attempting to remove the cap, Fallon chipped his front tooth, adding another medical problem to the serious finger injury he suffered a few weeks before (the same wound he was trying to take care of with the gel). If there’s a moral to this story, it might be this: Use the right tool for the job… and that tool isn’t your teeth!
Yet Fallon is hardly alone in his dilemma. According to the American Association of Endodontists, chipped teeth account for the majority of dental injuries. Fortunately, modern dentistry offers a number of great ways to restore damaged teeth.
If the chip is relatively small, it’s often possible to fix it with cosmetic bonding. In this procedure, tough, natural-looking resin is used to fill in the part of the tooth that has been lost. Built up layer by layer, the composite resin is cured with a special light until it’s hard, shiny… and difficult to tell from your natural teeth. Best of all, cosmetic bonding can often be done in one office visit, with little or no discomfort. It can last for up to ten years, so it’s great for kids who may be getting more permanent repairs later.
For larger chips or cracks, veneers or crowns may be suggested. Veneers are wafer-thin porcelain coverings that go over the entire front surface of one or more teeth. They can be used to repair minor to moderate defects, such as chips, discolorations, or spacing irregularities. They can also give you the “Hollywood white” smile you’ve seen on many celebrities.
Veneers are generally custom-made in a lab, and require more than one office visit. Because a small amount of tooth structure must be removed in order to put them in place, veneers are considered an irreversible treatment. But durable and long-lasting veneers are the restorations of choice for many people.
Crowns (also called caps) are used when even more of the tooth structure is missing. They can replace the entire visible part of the tooth, as long as the tooth’s roots remain viable. Crowns, like veneers, are custom-fabricated to match your teeth in size, shape and color; they are generally made in a dental lab and require more than one office visit. However, teeth restored with crowns function well, look natural, and can last for many years.
So what happened to Jimmy Fallon? We aren’t sure which restoration he received… but we do know that he was back on TV the same night, flashing a big smile.
If you would like more information about tooth restorations, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers” and “Artistic Repair Of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
Twenty-six percent of American adults between 65 and 74 have lost all their teeth to dental disease. This isn’t an appearance problem only—lack of teeth can also harm nutrition and physical well-being.
Fortunately, we have advanced restorative options that can effectively replace missing teeth. Of these, there’s a tried and true one that’s both affordable and effective: removable dentures.
Dentures are simple in design: a plastic or resin base, colored with a pinkish-red hue to resemble gums to which we attach prosthetic (false) teeth. But while the design concept isn’t complicated, the process for creating and fitting them can be quite involved: they must conform to an individual patient’s jaws and facial structure if they’re going to appear natural.
If you’re considering dentures, here’s some of what it will take to achieve a successful outcome.
Positioning the teeth. The position of the prosthetic teeth on the base greatly determines how natural they’ll appear and how well they’ll function. So, we’ll need to plan tooth placement beforehand based on your facial and jaw structures, as well as photos taken of you before tooth loss. We’ll also consider how large the teeth should be, how far to place them forward or back from the lips, and whether to include “imperfections” from your old look that you see as part of your appearance.
Simulating the gums. While the teeth are your smile’s stars, the gums are the supporting cast. It’s important that we create a denture base that attractively frames the teeth by determining how much of the gums show when you smile, or adding color and even textures to better resemble gum tissue. We can also add ridges behind the upper teeth to support speech.
Balancing the bite. Upper and lower dentures don’t operate in and of themselves—they must work cooperatively and efficiently with each other during eating or speaking. So while appearance matters, the bite’s bite adjustment or balance might matter more. That’s why we place a lot of attention into balancing and adjusting the bite after you receive your dentures to make sure you’re comfortable.
This is a detailed process that we may need to revisit from time to time to make sure your dentures’ fit remains tight and comfortable. Even so, modern advances in this traditional restoration continue to make them a solid choice for total tooth loss.
If you would like more information on denture restorations, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Removable Dentures.”
Over the last century and a half millions of people have had a tooth cavity filled with “silver” amalgam. Perhaps you’re one of them. The use of this effective and durable filling has declined in recent years, but only because of the development of more attractive tooth-colored materials.
At the same time there’s another issue that’s been brewing in recent years about this otherwise dependable metal alloy: the inclusion of mercury in amalgam, about half of its starting mixture. Various studies have shown mercury exposure can have a cumulative toxic effect on humans. As a result, you may already be heeding warnings to limit certain seafood in your diet.
So, should you be equally concerned about amalgam fillings — even going so far as to have any existing ones removed?
Before taking such a drastic step, let’s look at the facts. To begin with, not all forms of mercury are equally toxic. The form causing the most concern is called methylmercury, a compound formed when mercury released in the environment combines with organic molecules. This is the form certain large fish like salmon and tuna ingest, which we then ingest when we eat them. Methylmercury can accumulate in the body’s tissues where at high levels it can damage various organ systems.
Dental amalgam, on the other hand, uses elemental mercury. Dentists take it in liquid form and mix it with a powder of other metals like silver, tin and copper to create a pliable paste. After it’s placed in a prepared cavity, the amalgam hardens into a compound in which the mercury interlaces with the other metals and becomes “trapped.”
Although over time the filling may emit trace amounts of mercury vapor, it’s well below harmful levels. You’re more likely to encounter “un-trapped” mercury in your diet than from a dental filling. And scores of studies over amalgam’s 150-year history have produced no demonstrable ill effects due to mercury.
Although it now competes with more attractive materials, amalgam still fills (no pun intended) a necessary role. Dentists frequently use amalgam in less visible back teeth, which encounter higher chewing pressures than front teeth. So, if you already have an amalgam filling or we recommend one to you, relax — you’re really in no danger of mercury poisoning.
Did you make any New Year's resolutions this year? For many of us, these pledges reflect a sincere desire for self-improvement—whether it's in terms of our career, our personal lives, or our health. Yet it isn't always possible to keep every promise we make…and while exercising every day and cutting out desserts are worthwhile goals, they may also be very difficult to maintain. Fortunately, when you resolve to improve your oral health, there are some simple things you can do to help keep your smile looking healthy and bright.
Get Into the Oral Hygiene Habit
Got a minute? How about two minutes, twice a day? If so, you have time to brush your teeth properly. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), brushing twice daily with a soft-bristled brush that fits comfortably in your mouth—and replacing that brush every three to four months—is essential to good oral hygiene. The ADA also recommends flossing once a day to clean all the places where your brush can't reach—like in between teeth and under the gum line. Brushing and flossing are the best ways to maintain good oral hygiene at home.
Think Before You Drink
Here's another way to make a big difference in your oral health: Pass up those sugary and acidic drinks, and choose plain, refreshing water instead. We're talking about regular and diet soda, as well as fruit juice and those so-called “sports” or “energy” drinks. The sugar and acid in these drinks can spell disaster for your teeth: Sugar promotes the growth of bacteria that can cause tooth decay, while acid softens the hard enamel covering of your teeth, allowing cavities to get started. Water, on the other hand, satisfies your body's need for hydration without adding calories or harmful ingredients. That what makes it the best drink for your diet—and your oral health.
See Your Dentist Regularly
There are some jobs best left to the pros—like removing the hardened deposits called “tartar” from your teeth, and checking for tooth decay, gum disease and other oral health problems. We'll take care of all that at your routine dental checkup. Plus, you'll get a thorough cleaning and a chance to “brush up” on oral hygiene techniques that can help you keep your mouth healthy throughout the year.
If you have questions about improving your oral hygiene, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Daily Oral Hygiene” and “Think Before You Drink.”
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